Friday, June 18, 2021

Playing Lossless Audio on Macs

Kirk McElhearn:

I haven’t written much about Apple’s new foray into lossless, high-resolution, and Dolby Atmos music. I’ve written about high-resolution music plenty over the years, and it’s clear that, for the vast majority of listeners, it’s just marketing and won’t make a difference.

But Apple has added music formats that can’t even be played back on Macs, without changing a hidden setting.


The Music app doesn’t cause this to change automatically, so you’ll need to change it. And while you can probably leave it set to 96,000 Hz all the time, this could cause problems if you’re playing back music at other sample rates.


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Not being able to play Atmos on a Mac is probably a blessing in disguise. I listened to 20+ Atmos tracks on my iPhone and they all sound noticeably worse than the original stereo mix. Eddy Cue must be high as a kite if he thinks Atmos::4K Stereo::VHS or whatever. It’s a step backwards. I don’t know why anyone would prefer it.

You clearly can play back hi-res lossless on a Mac, it's just that it will be resampled and some of the (completely out of the range of human hearing) information that might be present will be discarded.

If one is worried about that, you can leave it set to 96,000Hz as suggested. It will not cause problems if you're playing back music at other sample rates (unless something is broken, which is entirely possible with Apple Music). Any signal that can be transmitted and reconstructed at a lower sample rate can be upsampled and reconstructed, assuming that the systems are appropriately (analog) bandwidth limited (if they aren't you have real problems). If this weren't the case, then the whole modern world, from Apple Music to WiFi, to MRI, wouldn't freaking work.

Of course if you are playing stuff back through analog equipment that is designed for the actual frequency range of human hearing, ultrasonic signals could cause all sorts of audible imperfections, or, perhaps more likely, the designers filter them out before they can cause problems.

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